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Show HN: My 486 Server

3 months ago/123 comments/486servu.dy.fi

Hello. I wrote a multitasking 16-bit real mode "operating system" that works on every IBM PC compatible computer, and a TCP/IP stack for it. Then I wrote an HTTP server for it.

3 months ago by rndgermandude

You Finns and your "(free) operating system[s] (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones." :D

3 months ago by colejohnson66

This "Linus" guy won't go anywhere. No one wants a half-done kernel that is just a hobby.

3 months ago by coldtea

Plus the future is microkernels anyway, and there's strong competition between Minix and HURD

3 months ago by vba616

It kind of blew my mind when I learned an evolution of Minix ended up in every Intel computer anyway. You don't even get a choice.

Professor Tanenbaum strikes back...

3 months ago by smoppi

For those who are interested in retrocomputing, you can download the actual software from there: http://sininenankka.dy.fi/~sami/fdshell/

I recommend downloading the bootable floppy image, unless you want to see the source code.

3 months ago by jug

This currently looks like a poor 486 fighting for dear life.

Edit: This also looks like a fairly Finnish thing to do. Thinking not only of Linux and hacking, but also their general demoscene culture and such things. See also: https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-04-16-finland-re...

3 months ago by marttt

> ... fairly Finnish thing to do ...

+1 for this lovely metaphor. I'm Estonian, but I absolutely love Finns for their peculiar between-the-lines humor, and their tendency to go really deep into fringe stuff.

A Finnish guy once demonstrated a retro bicycle he was restoring, stating that it's going to take him two years to finish it. "This needs to be done properly," he said with a barely noticeable smirk.

Re: Finns, demoscene, and frugal computing: see also Viznut and his insightful essays: http://viznut.fi/en/

3 months ago by anthk

Inner Spain (read: non-coast) it's like that. If they need months to repair something well, they'll fight for it for long.

3 months ago by Hydraulix989

Didn't take long to overload it given it is a 486

3 months ago by bigiain

Jan 2001 was the first month I hit $1mil in revenue from our website. It was served from a Pentium P5 beige desktop box colocated in PAIX.

Actually, there were 3 of them. 1 running Apache and Perl FastCGI, one running MySQL, and a third which mostly ran backups, but could be used as failover for either the web server or database if required. I used to fly from Sydney to San Francisco 3 or 4 times a year with half a dozen hard drives in my carryon, because that was the most reliable way to do major upgrades - we had three identical boxes in the office in Sydney, and would install/configure/test major software and dependancy upgrades in house, then go to the data centre and swap in the new drives one machine at a time with zero downtime - usually. I was rarely the only one in my datacenter aisle with a screwdriver and a PAIX guy looking over my shoulder, but most other people were swapping out whole rack mount servers, not opening them up to replace or upgrade components.

3 months ago by digisign

"'PAIX, the 'Palo Alto Internet eXchange' was a neutral Internet exchange point."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PAIX

3 months ago by sillysaurusx

1 mil from what?

3 months ago by chrisstanchak

Good. Second Reality 4ever.

3 months ago by vkoskiv

I (fairly) recently installed modern Gentoo onto my 486DX2-66 box. I think it has 32MB of RAM in there. Boots and works fine for the most part. Compiled tools and utilities work fine for the most part, but trying to run any interpreted code takes ages. I should put up a webserver on there and see if it can serve something!

Here is me using it to log onto my webserver, it loads the SSH key from a 5.25" floppy: https://twitter.com/vkoskiv/status/1370116376166273025?s=20

3 months ago by Teknoman117

I did the same thing with an AM5x86-133 based industrial computer (the SoC is an AMD Elan SC520) with 32 MiB of RAM. I found it actually quite painful to get a kernel config together that wouldn't OOM the system at boot (for the current upstream kernel). I just barely squeaked by with all of the cgroup and netfilter options OpenRC requires, the ethernet driver, and the legacy ISA IDE driver. I should probably change the optimization settings to -Os rather than -O2 though. I ended up starting with tinyconfig and working forward from there.

I actually have two of them (from different vendors) with the same SoC. One has 32 MiB of RAM soldered on that I can't upgrade (a Kontron board), the other has a SO-DIMM slot (a WinSystems board). So $5 and some eBay sleuthing brought it to 128 MiB. As for the former, I don't have schematics, so I'm a little uncomfortable just soldering another SDRAM chip to it and seeing what happens.

Only thing I was a bit sad about was that I spent the time figuring out how to change the CHOST on Gentoo to i586, only to discover that the AM5x86 is a 486 based core...

3 months ago by Zardoz84

I remember when I had an AMD 5x86-133 (branded like a AM486-DX5 133) as my computer... these times playing DooM 2 and the demo of Star Fleet Academy at slow motion...

3 months ago by anthk

OpenWRT for 486 would be a faster choice. Just crosscompile pkgs from another machine.

You'll have http and gopher support granted. If libressl compile and run, place it under /opt, and maybe you'll be able to compile a gemini client.

3 months ago by vkoskiv

I should give that a go, yeah. The gentoo attempt was mostly to see how a modern desktop class linux distro would work on a system that old. Answer: Not very fast!

3 months ago by anthk

OpenWRT with musl would run much faster. Try to build a slim kernel with the OpenWRT toolchain.

3 months ago by bee_rider

Always funny to compare the amount of RAM in these machines to modern L3 cache sizes. You can get an AMD chip with 8X as much!

3 months ago by detaro

Same with storage. This laptop has a few times more RAM than my first PC had disk space. And in turn, I've used servers that had more RAM than my laptop today has SSD space.

3 months ago by lokedhs

As you get older, the differences just becomes larger and larger. At some point it just gets ridiculous. My current laptop has almost 1 million times more RAM than my first computer (40 GB vs. 64 kB).

It's just impossible to compare the numbers when the differences are that large.

And of course, a post like this is not complete without me noting that the response times when pressing a button on the keyboard was vastly faster on my C64 than my modern machine.

3 months ago by jabl

My first Linux install was a big pile of 3.5" floppies downloaded over my (well, my parents) 9600 bps modem containing Slackware that I installed to a 486dx2-66 with 8 MB RAM. With that 8 MB I was even able to run Xfree86 and an xterm before it started swapping!

That was the time before PnP ISA and kernel modules, so to get the sound blaster card to work one had to specify the IRQ (and I/O port address?) in the kernel config and recompile the kernel. Good times!

3 months ago by anthk

Urxvt would haven been (and it's still is) much lighter than XTerm.

3 months ago by gokhan

Looks like the server is asleep since no one requested for a page recently. I'm constantly refreshing the page until I receive a response, just to prime it for my fellow HNers in case this reaches top of HN.

3 months ago by smoppi

My OOM handler killed the HTTP server process. Now I restarted it - the HTTPD process, not the computer.

3 months ago by throwthere

Are you still working on this? I fired up my spider on ultra aggressive retry mode because that will help the DNS get cached for people in my isp. (They have funky cache settings). This should help thee Ed time to first byte for fellow HN neighbors.

3 months ago by xd

Can't connect but the OP put a video[1] up of the system ~4 months back. Looks like it might be serving content direct from 3.5 and 5 1/4 floppies which might explain the lag :D

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Be01GLFP-bQ

3 months ago by smoppi

Actually I upgraded the storage and the website is now served from a hard disk. I'm uploading a video to Youtube atm.

3 months ago by kxrm

Not sure how big your site is, since it is down right now, but consider setting up a small RAM drive.

3 months ago by xd

Honestly, I prefer the floppy drives!

3 months ago by smoppi

Me too, and that's why the BBS service is still on a floppy.

3 months ago by chizhik-pyzhik

of course i go look at the finnish person's other videos and they're about building a sauna

3 months ago by fouc

What is the lowest specs required to handle the HN effect anyways?

What is the most retro computer that ever served traffic from HN's top page without going down?

3 months ago by smoppi

Considering that it has to be able to handle about 100 new sockets per second, one socket requires about 1 kB ... 2048 kB (?) of memory depending of the size of the buffers and how the congestion window is implemented[1], I'd say that it would need at least dozens of megabytes of memory and fast I/O. Maybe more depending of the size of the content in the server.

Also not all TCP/IP stacks close the socket properly, so the socket cannot just be removed from the memory immediately after sending the page. There will always be sockets that are just waiting for a timeout.

[1]my 486 server does not have any TCP congestion control at all - it just sends one TCP frame and waits for ACK before sending the next frame.

3 months ago by CyberRabbi

It doesn’t really take a powerful server to sustain HN traffic (tens of thousands of requests over a few hours). The problem is that most web server software is really inefficient. A 486 theoretically is capable of handling HN request load, it’s just not being used well.

3 months ago by joebob42

Someone did a TI something and it seemed to basically work fine as far as I remember.

3 months ago by fouc

Oh yes I remember now, 6 months ago there was a Casio graphing calculator Fx-9750GII hosting a website https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27814080

CPU SH3/SH4a, Frequency of CPU 29MHz, RAM 64 Kilobytes

Unfortunately it didn't survive HN effect

3 months ago by tyingq

My guess is that memory is probably the big thing. Serving a static file from a buffer cache shouldn't be that taxing on a cpu.

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